No matter if you are selling to businesses or directly to consumers, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate your branding.
For many marketers, this is a painful topic since it's hard to measure and the results mostly become visible only in the mid- to long-term. But especially in the past couple of weeks, it became obvious which companies have taken the time to invest in their brands and built a loyal community of customers around them.
Branding is a competitive advantage and it's at least worth exploring how you can strengthen yours. I always look at the brand of a company like a person. Is this somebody I would like to meet or hang out with? And if you don't specify what you stand for and what your opinion is, this makes it very hard for your customers to get to know and trust you.
While certain societal and macroeconomic trends have been well underway for years, the current crisis has accelerated their importance substantially.
Ana Andjelic, one of Forbes' upcoming CMOs and PhD in Sociology, beautifully summarizes it this way:
Radical individualism is out, social connection is in. Brand focus is not on the end customer, but on the communities, they belong to. Just as personas made individual consumers visible, the new brand methodology makes visible consumer communities and their co-dependencies and influences. The new focus of engagement plans is not just on the brand actions, but on their secondary effects. The pre-pandemic consumer-centric brand strategy is now a society-centric strategy.
Let's quickly dive into each of those:
Just like what content went through ten years ago, communities are rapidly moving from a "nice to have" to a "must-have". It doesn't matter what category your brand is in. If you want to build one yourself, you have to find a way to put forward your social mission and values, which are the glue for any community to form.
Ana goes on:
The key here is for brands to stop thinking about their community just as top-of-the-funnel tactic, and consider it as a long-term, bottom-of-the-funnel strategy (bonding, advocacy, loyalty). Next step is to define and focus on the most valuable customer communities. Community management overall has to be more personal. For example, high-standard of customer service in physical retail stores can translate in the equally high standard customer service via WhatsApp, Zoom, and chat.
For most companies content has become a major part of their marketing and branding strategy already, but there are some changes underway in terms of formats and channels.
Across categories, brands have been pivoting to live stream en masse. Spurred by Instagram Live, every brand these days is in the business of enriching our lives - through recipes, daily meditations, virtual exercises, design hacks to fix our living quarters, life coaching, movie lists, poetry reading, puppy photos, and DIY crafts.
While situational, these calls to action open up agile content opportunities post-crisis. There’s also a welcome content shift towards live programming and away from polished campaign imagery.
Ana weighs in once again:
Brands will hopefully embrace this lo-fi approach, and put forward scrappy, live, and real content focused on communal watching and socializing. Community-oriented content tends to do better at the moment (versus the polished influencer one), as the currently predominant memes and aesthetic language demonstrate.
While it may feel overwhelming at times, this lifestyle content pivot is a good thing: it moves the brands away from product marketing and forces them to explore, define, and capitalize on their cultural and social role.
In an endless sea of blog posts, product announcements and daily news, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate what's relevant and worthy of our time and what's not. So your brand, and your company can act as the filter or curator of all things noteworthy for your customers.
It doesn't all need to be your own content, curate the articles, opinion pieces, products, newsletters and books that fit your brand and you know your customers are going to enjoy.
You can certainly also dig in your product or content archives and resurface old but contextually relevant pieces of content that way. Or if you have an existing community, do a roundup of stuff that they are sharing. It's likely that other members are going to find value there as well.
Think of yourself as the curator, just like that one friend who sends you timely and relevant links, because she knows you well. Be that friend.
Of course, partnerships have been part of companies' marketing playbooks for decades. But especially in these times, show that you are part of an ecosystem. Partner with companies that reflect your values and have relevance for your audience as well. Collaborate on webinars, new product development, and charitable causes.
Not only are you going to profit from getting introduced to each other's customers, but you also show that you are not a lone wolf fighting only for yourself. Just like in real life, go out and make friends and find ways of working together.
The network effect and positive externalities on your brand will be invaluable over time. Especially if you collaborate consistently, you are going to be seen as the opinion leader and influencer in your niche who brings people and companies together.
Ana closes her 4Cs of Modern Brands rant with the following words:
This crisis is not a short-term acute emergency. It is a call to action for companies to pivot and hit a hard reset on the way they do business. The jobs to be done for a brand, going forward, are communal and social, and the business success is defined through how much a company supports other companies, how much it improves the lives of their customers, how much good it does to its community, and what kind of society it reflects. Coronavirus won’t kill brands. Complacency will.
And again, you can apply community, content, curation and collaborations to your brand no matter the product category. For B2B companies it might not be as obvious, but the same principles apply.
And if you are still not convinced, one thing is for sure: If your competitor does a good job on the above and you don't, you lose in the long-run. Big time. And vice versa.